Heading out on holiday? Don’t forget to take a good book – or three – along
Last week, I stuck my neck out and gave you the anti-glossy magazine guide to preparing for a vacation. But while I did say that the only thing you absolutely must pack is a sense of adventure, I forgot about another holiday essential without which your summer break would not be complete: books.
Given the high-octane lives most of us lead, the only time you can crack open a book and sink deep into it is when you are on holiday. It doesn’t matter where you go: frenetic cities; sun-bleached beaches; exotic resorts; mountain getaways; insert the destination of your choice. But no matter where you end up, a good book is always a boon companion. You could read it by the poolside, dip into it last thing at night, or just keep it handy for car and plane journeys.
Over the last couple of weeks, I have been compiling my own wish list for my summer reading. Here are just a few of the choices I have made. (And do feel free to share your own!)
• For interminable plane, car and train journeys: You need something light and undemanding in these circumstances, a book that doesn’t ask too much of you but still keeps you absorbed by telling a cracking good story. My favourites are crimes writers like Harlan Coben and Lee Child. Their books are page-turners and keep the ennui of long journeys at bay with a rapidly moving plot. You could also try Val McDermid, though be warned, her stories can get a tad gruesome – not the best start for a holiday.
• Beach reads: Top of my list is Lemon Grove by Helen Walsh, sweaty, sexy, sticky and ever-so-slightly icky story of a woman’s lust for her step-daughter’s boyfriend, who comes on holiday with them. It is just the right blend of disturbing and disgusting, evoking the atmosphere of fraught family vacations and leavening it with lots of sexual tension.
• City reads: Before I head out to any destination, I like to read up on it. But not the usual travelogues; I find that fiction set in that city serves my purpose much better. It allows me to immerse myself in the atmosphere of my destination even before I get there.
So, if you are planning on visiting Bangkok this summer, do stock up on John Burdett, the bestselling author of Bangkok 8 and its many sequels. Its lead character is the half-Thai, half-farang detective Sonchai Jitpleecheep, the plots take in everything from the Bangkok sex industry to themes of reincarnation and Buddhist philosophy. You could also try Jake Needham who was famously described by the Bangkok Post as “Michael Connelly with steamed rice”.
If it’s Italy, then it must be Sarah Dunant. Her trilogy, The Birth of Venus, In the Company of the Courtesan, and Sacred Hearts, is set in Florence, Venice and Ferrara and brings the Renaissance alive as no academic tome could. If you are looking for a more modern take on Venice, then you can’t go wrong with Donna Leon, who uses the device of crime stories to write love letters to her adoptive home city.
Similarly, if it’s Provence, it must be Peter Mayle. If it’s Spain, it must be Ernest Hemingway (Death in the Afternoon, a non-fiction book about the bullfighting tradition and his classic For Whom the Bell Tolls about the Spanish civil war). And if you’re bound for England’s Lake District, dipping into the poetry of the Romantics (Wordsworth in particular) may not be a bad idea.
• If you’re travelling with kids and want a book that would keep all age groups entertained, look no further than Gerald Durrell’s My Family and Other Animals. It is laugh-out-loud funny and brilliant as a bonding exercise. The perfect counterpoint to this is Clare Balding’s My Animals and Other Family, about growing up in a horse-mad and dog-crazy posh English household.
• Looking to get your teeth into something more substantial while you holiday? Then, John Keay’s India, described as A History: From the Earliest Civilisations to the Boom of the Twenty-First Century, may be just the thing for you. You could also try Karen Armstrong’s A History of God, which reveals fresh insights with every new reading, or her more recent The Case for God. Also worth a look is Tom Holland’s In the Shadow of the Sword, The Birth of Islam and the Rise of the Global Arab Empire.
• If spanking new releases are your thing, then here are my picks: The Target by David Baldacci, The Collector by Nora Roberts, Still Life with Bread Crumbs by Anna Quindlen, and yes, Missing You by Harlan Coben.
So, happy holidays to you all. And happy reading!